Food I – Food is Relational

I used to ask myself, "Why dinner and a movie?" If you want to impress a girl take her to a theme park, or sky diving or somewhere you can use a gun. Why something so ordinary? Dinner...everybody eats dinner. I figured you should do something that shows her a little bit of who you are. If you are a ninja, walk her down a dark alley in the middle of the night so she can see you beat the cuss out of someone trying to rob you. If you are a barber, cut her hair. A police officer, arrest her kid brother.

As I grew older I saw the flaw in my understanding: as much as men like to show off, women are not impressed. As a general principle, comfort rules... hence, the ordinary. Everybody eats. If that is too uncomfortable, see a show. That way you don't even have to look at each other, or talk. Its perfect. If it's a good movie, say, Breakfast at Tiffany's, or The Departed (best picture this year by the Academy), your golden.

Then again, the highlight of a really good date is the dinner, not the movie. The movie is just an easy way out in case you're a fool and you took her to an all you can eat that didn't include a salad bar. Food is the substance of relationships. When you first start dating you lie with food, "I'll just have a something light." The day after the wedding that salad is going to become lobster with a side of steak. At a job interview you can impress with food. My genius brother, Jason, deliberately ordered spaghetti at an important interview... and got the job. Why? They were impressed that he could eat such a messy dish without fear. Brilliant! The way we eat can tell a lot about who we are. The first time my brother (Jason again) introduced my parents to his wife to be, Cheri, my mother ordered the biggest dish and was the only one to clean her plate. Then she finished all the food left on Cheri's plate... after polishing off the remains of my dad's entrée. "You gonna eat that?" If Cheri was paying attention, and I know she was, she could have learned a lot about her future mother in law from that meal. Don't say you weren't warned. (The point here, for those of you who do not know my mother, is not that she eats a lot, but that she says and does whatever is on her mind, regardless of how it appears. Not a bad trait in a mother... unless you care about privacy or being embarrassed in public, which, by the way, home grown Bottigs do not.)

The TV program Everybody Loves Raymond (ELR) understood the important connection between food and relationships. In this show everyone is always eating, taking real bites and swallowing, sincere ingestion. They eat so much they must come hungry or they could never finish filming before they are all too stuffed to deliver their lines. Raymond's mother in the show, Marie, is often the focal point of the food fetish. Every time Raymond comes over she offers him food. When she is upset with him she takes away his food. To show she is proud of him, concerned for him, thinking of him, she makes food. This extends to the other members of the family as well. Robert, the less loved son, often has food taken away from him and given to Ray. The writers of the show, understanding this metaphor for life we call eating, demonstrate that Robert is a little crazy by making him touch food to his chin when he eats. When Ray and Robert's parents meet Amy's (Amy eventually marries Robert) parents for the first time they are accepting until they find out a horrible truth. Amy's dad has never eaten a muffin. "What kind of a man has never had a muffin?" The conclusion: he must be certifiable. This importance of food is demonstrated in Ray's wife Debra as well. Marie is never fully satisfied with her as a good wife for her son because she can't cook. In one episode, however, Debra makes braciole and it is surprisingly good. Marie's husband, Frank, even sneaks over to Ray's house to eat it so Marie doesn't find out. Normally a sour spirit, he becomes eloquent over Debra's dish. Handing her some flowers for the privilege of partaking in this delight he says, "Anyone who can cook braciole like this deserves a hillside full of heavenly scented marigolds and daffodils." It may seem out of character to anyone with a less intimate knowledge of the characters and the role of food in the show, but on ELR food is life and joy and the substance of relationships. Marie finds Frank cheating on her (by eating Debra's cooking) and she is deeply wounded. It turns out that braciole is the dish she used to win his love. He married her with the intention that "she would cook for no one else but me!" Food is a basic element of fidelity. At the end of this episode he renews his love for her, "Marie, a man needs more than braciole... he needs lasagna, soups... manicotti" and they embrace.

Food is relational.

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  • That’s too bad for you that food is relational. Considering…you don’t like it. Your mom told me once that when you were a child, or maybe a bit older, you walked into the room triumphantly because you had figured something out about life. “I just realized something” you said, “food is supposed to taste good.”

    I suppose many men, however, though we may not have an initial problem with food, do with relationships. Often, when I was young, I felt that being alone was far better than being with others. I didn’t date in high school very much and for the longest time, I just figured marriage was not in the cards for me. It didn’t bother me at the time to think that way.

    When I got out on my own after college the food I cooked was purely substantive and had no taste whatsoever. You’re free to use that as you will.

    Now married, according to Sarah, apparently, I don’t like food. Sarah read something about body types and how they relate to the priority to food in one’s life. I have no body fat, where do you think she put me on that continuum? Sarah says I put eating off if I find something more interesting to do and I even forget to eat. I tried to argue this, but then she asked me if I could remember eating that past day…it had been a fast by default.

    Sometimes I feel like she’s secretly, well, jokingly trying to get me to gain weight. But I don’t think it’s all joke. Sometimes I get the feeling that she feels in some ways like a failure as a wife because I, her husband, am so skinny. I try to explain that that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I’m healthy, and I am.

    Also, I never refuse food. So I can’t really be criticized for being hard to love or refusing affection. But, I suppose at the end of the day, I’m just not as excited about a meal as she is, or others are. I always thought I liked food and liked to eat, maybe that’s on account that when I do actually eat, I’m not picky about it. Something you, Adam, have to work on. Last I saw, though, you were getting better.

  • Steve,
    This blog is my re-entry into blogging proper, or blogging as I feel I should blog. I enjoy writing the “reflections” but those are for class and I have not had the time (due to class) to blog proper for some time.
    This series on food (my first series as a blogger) is an attempt to explain the world through food and defend who I am while encouraging myself to greater maturity in the eating world. As you have pointed out it may seem weird for someone like myself to consider food a topic worthy of consideration as it relates to the meaning of life, but that is exactly why I am writing this. As you also pointed out I am always advancing in this area, but I doubt I will ever enjoy cold sandwiches made with processed meat and cheese or anything with mayo.
    Seeing as you can go an entire day without eating I am not sure what that means for your life or relationships. We may have to explore that in these next few posts.

  • wendi

    I hate to say it (no I don’t), but, touche. It seems to me that people fall into one of two categories when it comes to food: apathy or obsession. If a person is obsessed, they may be obsessed with food in a number of ways, by depriving themselves of it or even by comforting themselves with it. If they are apathetic, that does not nessecarily mean that they eat any more or less than the obsessed person, it simply refers to the amout of time they spend actually thinking about it. I have known people who can eat three meals a day and at the end of the day, be unable to recall exactly what they ate or how it tasted because they simply didn’t care. To them, food is merely a means of survival. They tend to shy away from unfamiliar foods and are more likley to eat something bland or easy to digest because the easier it is to consume, the less they have to think about it. If you were to ask these people how important it was to think about food, they might tell you that thinking about food was a waste of time.
    I personally am on the other side of the fence. I love food. I love to cook food. I love to feed people…etc. Part of me wishes that i didn’t, but at the same time, I still love food and I am thankful that I can find pleasure in such a simple and essential part of life. As for being healthy, all I have to do is train myself to love healthy food as well.
    I thought it might benefit you to hear another perspective on the matter, though as I mentioned before, you pretty much hit the nail on the head.

  • Wendi,
    You make a lot of good points about apathy and obsession. I will need to consider those as this steam of thought continues. In many ways I am with you. I enjoy cooking for myself, as does Chrissy. It is less the burden of sustenance and more the joy of food that motivates me to cook. That is one of the biggest reasons why I have begun to write these, but you can read more about that later.

  • Amira

    My mother would always say that you will be judged on your table manners. Hence that is a really big thing for her, source of conflict here with the grand kids but I think she has a point. In the UK how you eat not just what you eat is seen as really important. The US is less fussed about both in my experience.
    I enjoyed the story about your Mom. That is one of tyhe traits I find most wonderful about her, you never have to try and second guess her.
    Lastly , as Steve said, food is a way of showing love. It takes time as a wife not to feel personally rejected when your husband and or dinner guests hate or even dislike your food. I suspect that roots back from the nurture role we feel we have taken over from the husband’s mother, part of the job description, if you will, of a wife. With tome and maturity of the relationship, food/ meals are a way to show love and serve one’s mate. The need for the man to eat three helpings with gusto are gone and hopefully in its place is a peace and pleasure in the time spent together.
    Enough wittering, Amira

  • Jodie

    So I must say, all this talk about food, but did I miss the part about ice cream??? To have Steve and Adam both talk about food and not mention to really achieve true satisfaction must mean to have 1/2 gallon of ice cream in one sitting (at least from all i have witnessed). It must be the way in which you men bond….
    also i must mention…Jeremy was cooking one of the first meals that he was cooking for me at our new house and i walked up and hugged him while he was stirring the pasta. His response??? Don’t touch me i am mastering my art!!!! Have you been having secret conversations with him???
    So far i am really enjoying your blog Adam, It is almost like having you here reading your newest writings to me over popcorn in the wee hours of the morning. I should have started reading this the first time you told me to. But i have always been stubborn. I must wait a few months to decide for myself that it is a good idea…or get advice from others (Amira) to know that what you say might actually be plausibly good. Anyways late is better than never, and i should know i am late a lot (is that in our genes too???).